Outkast are the most unique and most innovative force in hip-hop today. These two dope Atlanta boys who love Cadillacs started out with pimped out Southern hip-hop with their debut album ‘Southernplayaliztikcadillacmuzik’ but they slowly changed and evolved through each album.
While ‘ATliens’ did show them pushing boundaries, it was not until the almost perfect classic LP ‘Aquemini’ that their extremely unique music and styles took form. They were doing something extremely different. ‘Stankonia’ took the experimentation even further with electronic and jungle beats that were both sloppy and tight at the same time and contained the huge hits ‘B.O.B.’, ‘Ms. Jackson’, and ‘So Fresh, So Clean’.
While Big Boi grew up lyrically and delivery-wise, he basically always rapped on his songs (with the exception of a couple of tracks). He always had that ‘guy next door’ vibe: he loved cars, women, strippers, and so on. He just happened to be a millionaire and a modern hip-hop legend. Andre 3000 is a different story. While he was the pimped-out mack on the debut album, his style slowly changed to something extremely unique. At first it was a turban on ‘ATLiens’. Then, he was sporting football shoulder pads, high school marching uniforms, and a variety wild outfits. His feminine side was coming out in his wardrobe. There were wigs, pearls, and a plethora of bizarre outfits. While many wondered if he might be gay, Andre seemed to bask in the attention and the freedom of expression. He eventually had a baby with Erykah Badu.
Instead of selling two separate solo albums, Outkast has returned with a double album where one CD is basically a solo LP from Big Boi (‘Speakerboxxx’) and the other is a solo LP from Andre 3000 (‘The Love Below’). Packaging-wise, this was well done. At first, it looks like a Big Boi solo album since he is on the cover, sitting in a chair. Turn the CD upside down and over and you have Andre 3000’s album. Depending on which way you have the actual CD and jewel case (upside down or right side up), you can explore each solo album by looking through the jewel case and the CD booklet. While ‘Speakerboxxx’ is more of a typical Southern hip-hop album, Big Boi’s maturity is evident. Still, for Outkast standards, it does not break any new ground (except for the whole concept of the separate solo albums in one). Andre’s ‘The Love Below’ is something totally unexpected. Here, he sings on a majority of the tracks. With funky electronic music, some smooth guitar work mixed with synth beats and even jungle beats, Andre has made a romantic album filled with funky crooning. Prince was obviously a major influence. As a whole, it’s a high quality collection, but of the two solo albums ‘The Love Below’ is a much better record due to the continuity, the creativity, and the sheer passion behind it.
‘The Love Below’ has some of the most romantic hip-hop songs in ages (and also some of the funkiest). ‘Hey Ya’ is the probably the catchiest and most well known. At first, it sounds like an indie-rock cut and it is to some extent. The simple chorus flows over the listener with rock guitars, keyboards, and drums. No other hip-hop group could get away with something like this. Even as a rock star, Andre 3000 still keeps his hip-hop spirit. ‘Pink & Blue’ has a very strong Prince influence. The electronic synth beat slowly and lightly bops along as the atmospheric melodies slowly move in like an ocean wave. Here, Andre sings about the beauty of a love relationship between an older woman and a younger man. It’s just a slow and funky romantic track perfect in every way.
‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ is a seriously funky track with thick handclap beats and groovy guitars. Andre 3000’s alter ego Cupid Valentino claims, ‘Every day’s the 14th!’ It’s a perfect way to open the LP but just before is ‘Love Hater’, a jazz track where Andre croons like an old-timer. The piano sparkles and Andre’s voice dances along. ‘Prototype’ is an extremely romantic track that builds to a marvelous crescendo. The guitars and baseline slowly creep in like ocean waves again as Andre sings the hook: ”I think I’m in love again” Unfortunately, a beautiful song is almost ruined by Andre joking around singing, ‘Stank you, smelly much!’ Still, it is forgivable. ‘Love In War’ is a short and but effective make up song while ‘She’s Alive’ is a poignant song about the struggle and dignity of single mothers.
Other strong tracks are ‘Dracula’s Wedding’ featuring Kelis (which uses vampires as a metaphor for the immortality of love) and ‘Take Off Your Cool’ with Norah Jones. The last singing-track is ‘Vibrate’. At first, the backwards-sound effects could give the listener a headache and annoy them, but the truth of the song slides in. Andre’s voice sounds electronic on the strong hook:
Every boy and girl, woman and man
When you’ve done about the best you can
Motherfuck the wagon, come join the band
Vibrate! Vibrate higher!
It is a strong way to end the singing part of the album.
Andre 3000 has an incredible rapping voice and it is only used in a couple of songs, such as ‘Spread’, one of the best tracks on the album. While a majority of the song has Andre singing in a falsetto voice, there is a section where he raps at lightning speed. The hook has all the passion and anticipation of an evening of good loving:
I don’t want to move to fast
But I can’t resist your sexy ass
So spread, spread for me!
I can’t wait to get you home!
When Andre raps, his voice is distorted like he was sucking on helium. It’s a classic track. The final cut on ‘The Love Below’ is ‘A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)’ where Andre raps for a straight five minutes without a hook. This autobiographical tale is mesmerizing as he takes us on a journey from being a child to getting a deal and even up to his relationship with Erykah Badu and the birth of his son Seven. It’s proof that Andre can do anything on a microphone.
While ‘The Love Below’ is very close to perfect, there are one or two minor problems. ‘Roses’ is completely out of place. In an album where romance and love are the theme, ‘Roses’ suggests that everything beautiful is made of excrement. Andre sings the hook:
I know you’d like to think your shit don’t stank
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like boo-boo’
While Big Boi does rock a deep verse, this song would have been better on the ‘Spearkerboxxx’ album since it truly breaks the almost perfect flow of ‘The Love Below’.
Another odd track is ‘She Lives In My Lap’ with Rosario Dawson. Even though the song is not bad and it does have the funky, sexy, electronic, spaced out feel that we love about Andre, it just does not hit as hard as the other tracks. There is an unlisted instrumental track hidden within the album too with Andre covering ‘My Favorite Things’. While the instrumentation and the extremely quick beat is something very refreshing and interesting, it does seem out of place and too long (clocking in over 5 minutes long). Still, it is something to be appreciated.
There are a handful of skits on the albums. This time, they do not break up the flow as much as they did on ‘Stankonia’. On ‘The Love Below’, all of the skits are about love and romance. Like the past interludes, they all have humorous anecdotes.
Andre 3000 handles all of the production and there are a myriad of instruments, sounds, and effects on every song. There is not one boring or typical track on this LP. Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob made an incredible album of singing as a solo LP, Andre 3000 takes the same route and does an excellent job. The love is deep, dirty, funky, and strong.
‘Speakerboxxx’ is more of a straightforward Southern hip-hop album. Of course, the Outkast creativity is evident. ‘Ghetto Musick’ (produced by Andre 3000) is a perfect opening track. The thick, techno/jungle beat pounds along but then, a soul sample is interwoven within the track. It is an extremely creative and effective track. ‘Reset’ (produced by Big Boi) features Khujo Goodie and Cee-Lo from Goodie Mob. It is good to hear Cee-Lo and other Goodie Mob members on a new track. The hook is poignant:
Start over again
Everything happens for a reason
Good doesn’t come without pain
Start over again’
It is possibly the best song on Big Boi’s album. ‘Unhappy’ (produced by Mr. DJ) is another poignant track that deals with the stress of jail and other aspects of ghetto life. Featuring Sleepy Brown, the hook has a certain truth and freedom when we know we have been caught:
Might as well have fun
Because your happiness is done
And your goose is cooked’
The funk continues with ‘Bowtie’ which features Sleepy Brown and Jazzy Pha. Produced by Big Boi, the pimped out roots re-emerge. The smooth vocals of the hook along with the handclap rhythms make the listener strut as they walk or cruise as they drive:
Crocodile on my feet
Fox fur on my back
Bowtie round my neck
That’s why they call me the gangsta mack
In the Cadillac…!’
The song rocks and could be a theme song for the next Player Of The Year Ball. ‘The Way You Move’ (featuring Sleepy Brown) has been getting major airplay on MTV and BET. While the song is extremely tight and smooth, the innovative feel of Outkast is missing along with Andre.
One of the best tracks on Big Boi’s album, ‘Knowing’ (produced by Mr. DJ and Big Boi), is a very funky and gritty track that has all the sinister ghetto atmosphere we love. ‘Flip Flop Rock’ (produced by Big Boi and Mr. DJ) features Jay-Z and Killer Mike. The hook has a intense energy and Jay-Z feels right at home. The collaboration works surprisingly well. ‘Church’ (produced by Andre) has that soulful gospel feel. Some songs are decent and should be appreciated but they do not hit as hard as the jewels of the album. ‘The Rooster’ and ‘Bust’ have simplistic but energetic hooks. ‘The Rooster’ does have some incredible horns and a thick and intricate funk (somewhat like a fast version of ‘Spottieottiedopaliscious’). ‘War’ (produced by Mr. DJ) is perfect for these times as death plays a major aspect in the track.
Other tracks fall into the typical Southern riot-starting club destroying vibe. ‘Last Call’ (featuring Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys, Slimm Calhoun, & Mello) is an extremely energetic club track that forces people to get up. The alcohol flows and the bodies move. ‘Tomb Of The Boom’ (featuring Big Gipp & Ludacris) also has this extreme energy of in the spirit of ‘Tear The Club Up’. While this is still typical Outkast and more creative than the typical Southern club tracks, they do not break any new ground. Eventually, they may end up being skipped by the listener to in the future.
By itself, ‘Speakerboxxx’ is quite an achievement for Big Boi. It proves that he can carry an album by himself. By hip-hop standards, ‘Speakerboxxx’ is a tight and well-done album. By Outkast standards, it is entertaining, but not as innovative as the previous albums. Both solo albums come together to form one huge double CD package. The concept is very innovative and well executed. As a group, Outkast took a major risk doing this but they pulled it off. Andre’s ‘The Love Below’ is a beautiful and romantic album with deep funk and soulful singing. While fans of Andre’s rapping may be disappointed because he only raps on a couple of songs, the songs all have that Outkast signature. If Big Boi was on them, they probably would not sound right.
Big Boi’s ‘Speakerboxxx’ is also entertaining but does not have the inspired quality of past Outkast releases. Some songs, such as ‘Ghetto Musick’ and ‘Flip Flop Rock’, are extremely creative while other songs like ‘Last Call’ just seem part of the Southern hip-hop club formula. Since both CDs are different, they should be rated both separately and as whole. Andre 3000’s ‘The Love Below’ is a solid 9.5 out of 10 while Big Boi’s ‘Speakerboxxx’ is an 8. The average would be 8.75 out of 10, which can be rounded off to a solid 9 out of 10. Hip-hop fans should be thankful that Outkast continue to do something different whether it is in the music itself or even the packaging.
Outkast (Big Boi/Andre 3000)
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
Genre: Hip Hop, Funk, Soul
Record Label: Arista